Wireless publishing

Posted in Media, Tech, Web at 8 pm

It seems that by adding a little extra code to my .htaccess file was all I needed to finally get the WordPress app running on my iPhone. The answer was in a thread on the WordPress support site. This applies to v2.7.1 at least in my case. This thread titled xmlrpc.php 403 Forbidden error noted a (now closed) MSN Groups thread with the answer. Fortunately ‘mkenney’ the OP included the actual code:

[Files xmlrpc.php]
SecFilterInheritance Off

(Just change the square brackets to angle brackets and slip this into your .htaccess file)

My efforts were complicated by my web host who turned off access to the file but made it look like a “404 File not found” error rather than the real error: “403 Forbidden” which sounds far more ominous.

The way to discover this for was to open the URL to the xmlrpc file directly in Safari and then bring up the Activities window which showed the text “forbidden” that was otherwise hidden from view. What tangled webs, indeed.


TiVo, Portland, Comcast and Digital, oh my

Posted in Media, Tech at 3 am

[Originally posted to the TiVo help forums.]

If you are in Portland Oregon and are missing channels 32-99 of your extended Basic (analog) cable through your TiVo, continue reading below.

On Friday March 6th, your TiVo’s guide was told that Comcast’s Analog Channels had been reduced to channels 2-31. You may have gotten a TiVo message saying that ‘Channel 32 (Versus) has been dropped’.

This schedule change has happened about 4 months too early. Comcast is planning on removing the 32-99 channels from analog and broadcasting them ONLY in digital. (Note: this is a different transition from the one that is going on with BROADCAST channels.) Most all of the cable companies are going to digital transmission on their own networks. Comcast in Portland is planning on doing this during the summer of 2009. Comcast is offering two free DTAs (Digital Transport Adapters) to every subscriber. I picked up one at the office on NE Sandy.

Because the guide information’s publisher jumped the gun, you are now stuck with a TiVo that thinks it only has channels 2 – 31. In order to get this fixed, you will need to do one of the following:

A) Wait until the guide is fixed. (TiVo and Tribune Media have been notified, though adding your voice may speed up the process.) I was told the updates to the guide data only happen after 4 to 5 business days. Considering the issue was reported on Friday, I’m guessing that the earliest we would see this fixed in Thursday, March 12th or as late as Monday, March 16.

B) Get the DTA converter box. This box is meant to provide the digital equivalent of extended basic service to your television. You don’t get the On Demand stuff or the music channels, but you do get your full channels 2 – 99 back. You can re-run the Guided Setup to get this box configured. (Takes about 40 minutes if you do everything right the first time. A lot of that is waiting for the guide data to come down.)

If you get the DTA from Comcast and try to set it up, be sure to select “Comcast Digital Converter” as the name of the box. NOTE: In other threads you may see this referred to as manufactured by Pace. While this is correct, you cannot use Pace as the Set-Top Box manufacturer in the guided setup. Read the TiVo’s screen very closely: “What is the name of the company on the front of the Set Top Box?” That name is Comcast, not Pace. I thought I was being smart by using Pace, but that’s exactly wrong. You must use the “Comcast Digital Converter” as the name/manufacturer of the converter box. I spent the better portion of 6 hours trying to get the (****) thing to work before realizing my error.


Newsflash: Comcast helpful

Posted in Media at 1 pm

In January, we ordered and installed Digital Cable, in order to get Fox Soccer Channel. The installer guy just used whatever cable box was in his van. Turns out it was one of the oldest models of converter boxes out there (General Instruments DCT-2244). It never worked well with our TiVo.

Today I walked into a service center to talk to Comcast about the flakey channel changing that I was experiencing with my TiVo trying to control this ancient digital box. (They misunderstood my original complaint and thought I was saying that the DCT2244 was not getting the right channel from Comcast, when in fact it was that the TiVo wasn’t able to exactly replicate the Remote Control signals the DCT2244 was expecting.) I thought they were going to say “Well tough luck. We have a TiVo-like box that you should use pay for instead.” But actually the customer service person was actively trying to figure out what Comcast could do to fix things. Actual customer service… can you believe it?

Right then and there she offered me a much newer digital cable box (Motorola DCT-2524) which is an updated box in the same series. I took it home and plugged it in, reconnecting each of the wires and connectors from the old box to the very similar new box, and voila, the TiVo is once again changing channels like a champ. Yay.

(They said to bring back the old one when I get the chance. “In the next week would be great”. Wow, that’s… laid back. That’s also not normally the phrase I would use with monopolies.)

Bottom line: our Series 2 TiVo was not working well with the old DCT2244 box, mostly because the Tivo was using “IR Blasters” to pretend it was a remote control but was failing. However, with the new DCT2524 there is a direct serial port connection which works perfectly. Comcast had the serial port enabled (it seems that the cable company can turn it off or on at will and some cable companies refuse to turn it on) and didn’t charge me for exchanging the box, or even ask for a deposit while I’m in possession of both boxes. Again, yay.

So Portland Comcast gets points for 1) being laid back, 2) being helpful, and 3) giving me a full-featured, upgraded box with no hassle.

However, on the way out of the service center I saw a flyer about Comcast’s own Digital TV Cutover. Oh boy, that’s a whole ‘nother entry.


Please Vote

Posted in Life, Media at 12 am

All I’m asking is that if you’re going to vote, don’t vote based on the amount of melanin a candidate has. That’s not a very good method of predicting leadership ability.

Please Vote. Please Vote based on issues.


The Future of Television

Posted in Media, Tech at 12 pm

A brief rambling of thoughts regarding television and video transmission as they will evolve in the coming decades:

1) The end goal? The Star Trek Holodeck: a 3-D representation of a scene that can be viewed from any angle. Putting aside the hokiness, this is what TV is heading towards: a reproduction of an environment in all physical dimensions.

2) In order for this to be feasible, flat 2-D capturing is useless. Video today is taking a series of bitmap images. The next gen of video will be just be stereo 2-D: 2 images of the same scene at the same time. Great, so we’ve replicated the depth of a scene, but we’re still stuck with the single perspective of the original pair of cameras.

3) If stereo images for ‘faux-3D’ isn’t enough, then what we need are more cameras, right? Well, then where does that end? Do you build a giant sphere of cameras, all pointed towards the center of the action? This might work okay for a movie like Cube but for, let’s say filming a climb of Mount Everest, this isn’t the way to go.

4) There are two basic ways of representing images in digital formats: Bitmaps or Vectors. Bitmaps are grids of pixels: perfect for paintings, documents and flat video. Bitmaps are great for when you have an image that you might want to make smaller, but they are useless for making bigger. If you take a 100 pixel by 100 pixel image and make it 1 mile by 1 mile, you’re going to get individual pixels that are 50 feet by 50 feet. However the same image made up of vectors could be made of very small 1 nanometer pixels and still be an accurate representation of the image.

5) If we want the ability to view a scene in all of it’s physical dimensions, we will need to capture the points in space (x,y,z coordinates/vectors) of as many elements as we need in order to re-create the scene. Take track events portrayed in a movie like Chariots of Fire. In order to truly capture the event, we’ll need to track the spacial locations of every significant element. I would guess these to be the track, the starting line, the finish line and the runners.

6) This should be subdivided down further however. Not just the runners, but the various body parts of the runners: legs, arms, heads. Maybe fingers? How about the starter’s gun? the trigger on the starter gun? the finish line tape?

7) We need to decide what’s truly important to capture: The runners, yes. The starting line and the finish line, yes. The crowd? Mmmm, maybe. Certainly films for decades have been using ‘standard crowd noise’ in place of recording actual crowds on the set of the film. Movies have been adding crowds to stadiums using mannequins, inflatables, or digital post-production. Maybe the specifics of the crowd are unnecessary for the scene.

8) We need to capture as much as possible, but we could extrapolate from a small set of points a number of the other points. Perhaps we know where the starter gun is, but instead of keeping track of the official that is pulling the trigger, we simple estimate the height of a person that would be holding a gun at a certain angle and height and make an approximation of the official. We know how the ribbon at the finish line would move and float given the motions of the players and the wind and the tautness of the tape. Do we need to know the exact location of a runner’s knee if we already know where their hips and toes are at? Maybe, but we probably don’t have to know where the ankle is at if we know where the heel and the knee are at.

9) Once we have those points in space, we can recreate the locations, but short of capturing the location of every thread of the clothing being worn or each lace of each shoe, we’re probably going to want to capture a ‘skin’ or a ‘texture map’ that would be used to wrap around the skeletons (vectors) of the runners. The skin could be captured ahead of time, or could be extrapolated from a video feed. We’ve already seen projects that take varied photographs and collects them into a multi-faceted view of a single object. In much the same way, a set of stills taken over time could create a texture map.

10) That same capture of the texture maps could be used to extrapolate the x/y/z of the original skeletons. Today’s motion capture techniques have relied on ping-pong balls taped to actors in green body suits and similar set ups. Those configurations are simply work-arounds that allow us to capture the models easily with today’s technology and are ultimately, unnecessary. Once we have the visual processing tools that are necessary, we can forgo the artificial set ups and special configurations and rely on the original video captures.

11) This sort of capturing and transmission becomes possible once we move from thinking of capturing a flat plane of pixels to capturing the coordinates and texture maps of a scene. The information that is captured can be still captured by a single video camera, given enough processing power. But when we add a second camera, we can collect better textures and more accurate coordinates. Add a third and the quality of the capture increases again. Add a dozen and you’re capturing every detail needed to analyze an event in everyday scenarios.

12) What does this all offer? Imagine watching Chariots of Fire from the actual point of view of one of the runners. Or from the officials. Or the finish line tape, or a shoe of the runners. Or directly overhead. The amount and number of perspectives is immense. Imagine changing the scene by adding a 100 mph wind to it. Or altering the track so it goes in a loop-de-loop.

13) And talk about scalability: If you want to transmit this scene to someone, you have the option of A) sending a fully-rendered image like you would to a current television, B) a pair of images to a stereoscopic video display (Yes, that’s by my employer), C) or a small set of the captured data to a cell phone/Personal media device for display of a low-res, animation style rendering, D) or a full feed of all the details to a computer-enabled display that could use a mouse or 3-d mouse that could be used to navigate around a scene.

14) Today we are capturing the equivalent of a single, low quality texture map. Soon we will be capturing higher quality single texture maps, but this is just a baby step forward. We need to build tools that will take those bitmaps and break them down into component parts: Vectors of skeletons, plus texture maps. We blend in approximations of the missing texture, enhance the scene with up-close photos, and extrapolate to fill in the additional x,y,z coordinate points we’re missing. None of these techniques are outside of our reach.


DTV Converters: Part II

Posted in Media at 10 am

Be sure to read the previous entry of the for the proper background.

I was thwarted in my attempts to get the Channel Master CM-7000 or the Philco. Instead I ended up with the Zenith DTT901. The ‘1’ means that it has the Analog Pass-Thru capability which is as simple as you can possibly imagine. From what I can tell, the only thing analog pass-thru does is add a physical wire so that when the box is turned off, the incoming RF signal is connected to the outgoing RF signal. If you’re getting an analog signal from the coaxial cable (whether from Over The Air or from the cable company) you’ll end up with the signal coming into your TV just like the converter box wasn’t there. But once you turn on the converter box, you need to change your TV back to channel 3 or 4 in order to see what signla might be coming through.

The real problem here is that the OTA digital signals are *NOT* available over the Cable TV connection as they are on the antenna connection, so I cannot get the system set up the way I would really like.

I was hoping for something a little slicker, where you’d be able to surf up and down the digital signals and the analog signals through a single run of channels, basically putting an analog tuner in along side the digital tuner. No such luck. I’ll now go back and re-number my preference ratings from the last entry, dropping the analog pass-thru feature to a 5 and giving the 15 other points to each of the S-Video, Tivo-controlability and the other minor features. Analog pass-thru could still be useful, but I’m far less sold on it now.

The funny thing is that the Zenith is functionally- (and nearly physically-) identical to the Insignia box that I already had. The remotes and the boxes themselves are clones except for the logos and the analog pass-thru option. Oddly, the manuals are quite different in layout and (some) text, but largely organized in the same way.

So with my new scoring weights, here’s where the two boxes shake out:

Insignia NS-DXA1:

  • Tivo (Series 2) compatibility: Unknown, but possible. (25 of 50 points)
  • S-Video connection: No (0 of 20)
  • Analog Pass-thru: No, older model (0 of 5)
  • Off-state power consumption: 0.01 amps; 0.06 amps while on. (3 of 3)
  • Auto-shut off: 1, 2, 3, 4 hours (3 of 3)
  • Shape of the remote: Number pad at bottom (yay!) Decent variety of button shapes (2 of 3)
  • Quality of menus/setup: Nice graphics, wrap-around menus, nice arrow movement (3 of 3)
  • Aesthetics of the form factor: Black. Logo can be covered, LED is a bit big. (2 of 3)
  • Total for the Insignia NS-DXA1: 38 of a possible 100 points. (Was 33)

Zenith DTT901:

  • Tivo (Series 2) compatibility: Unknown, but possible. (25 of 50 points)
  • S-Video connection: No (0 of 20)
  • Analog Pass-thru: Yes (5 of 5)
  • Off-state power consumption: 0.01 amps; 0.06 amps while on. (3 of 3)
  • Auto-shut off: 1, 2, 3, 4 hours (3 of 3)
  • Shape of the remote: Number pad at bottom (yay!) Decent variety of button shapes (2 of 3)
  • Quality of menus/setup: Nice graphics, wrap-around menus, nice arrow movement (3 of 3)
  • Aesthetics of the form factor: Black. Logo can be covered, LED is a bit big. (2 of 3)
  • Total for the Insignia NS-DXA1: 43 of a possible 100 points.

I’ve highlighted the only difference between these two in the scoring, the Analog Pass-Thru capability.

I may still try to get the CM-7000, but I might wait to see what reviews come out about the Apex DT250 and the DT1001. Either way I’ll probably try to offer up one of the two boxes I already have as a straight trade for the $40 coupon. My parents might take me up on it. The Apex models won’t be out for another few months, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see if a revised version of the CM-7000 comes out.

[EDIT: November 2009: As we’ve gotten full support of the Comcast DTA for basic digital cable and a bigger Motorola set-top box for extended channels, we haven’t actually needed to use an Over-The-Air converter box. However, TiVo does support some, including the two that we got: http://support.tivo.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/310, the Insignia and the Channel Master. (I traded off my 2nd Insignia box to my parents when their coupons came in for a Channel Master.) ]


DTV Converter Box Plans

Posted in Media at 12 pm

My Digital Television Converter Box coupons are about to expire. I went ahead and bought the Insignia from Best Buy a couple weeks ago, and I’m reasonably happy with it. I wish I had done a bit more research to see what options are available and thought about what our needs are and will be.

1) Cleaner OTA DTV Signal / Analog Pass-thru— For our set up at home, we have analog cable from Comcast, feeding directly (via coax) into our Tivo DVRs (one in the living room and one in the bedroom). The coax cable I ran from the living room to the bedroom causes amazingly strong ghosting on the local “Over The Air” channels (KATU 2, KOIN 6, KGW 8, OPB 10, etc.) so I’d like to be able to get those with a Digital TV signal. At the same time I’d like the device to be able to handle our analog cable connection. I’m not sure if I’d truly be able to integrate the analog cable with the digital OTA signals, but this would give me a fighting chance or at least make it easier to switch manually.

2) Best quality connection— I’d also like to get the highest quality signal out of the box. 95% of the Coupon-Eligible Converter Boxes or “CECBs” have only a Composite Video output (the standard yellow RCA connector). Exactly three of the boxes have the higher quality S-Video output (the black, 4-pin ‘hooded’ connector, see the Wikipedia entry on S-Video) which would marginally increase the quality of the picture: The Channel Master CM7000 and two Apex models.

Digression: The CECB program specifically limits the types of connections that are possible for these devices. There are higher quality DTV converters that provide Component, DVI or even HDMI connections but these devices are not eligible for this program as they are trying to help the people who are going to be more impacted by the DTV conversion. I’ve had my eye on a Samsung model at Circuit City, but I’m not willing to lay down $200 for a device that I’m not sure I’ll keep around and is only useful for 4 or 5 channels.

3) Tivo in Control— The only way I can integrate these channels with the Tivo’s scheduled recording is to find a model that uses the IR remote codes that Tivo is aware of. At this time, our Tivo Series 2 boxes do NOT have the ability to tune anything other than the original ‘integer’ channels that we’re used to. However there have been mentions of an update this summer that Tivo will support some of these converter boxes, and there is this official announcement of planned support, but there hasn’t been a list of which boxes will be supported. I’m guessing the decision to support any particular model will partly depend on total sales of that unit. I’m hoping that the Insignia box will be a safe bet for support.

There’s a future consideration here too: Comcast will probably shut off the analog signal service at some point. It may not be for years, but when that happens, these or similar converter boxes will basically be mandatory for using the two Tivos we’ve got. (I wonder if I’ll need Clear QAM support…)

So with the list of issues above, I’ve boiled this down to three attributes that I want:

  1. Tivo (Series 2) compatibility (50 points)
  2. S-Video connection (20 points)
  3. Analog Pass-thru (20 points)

The Insignia (a basically a re-badged Zenith, aka LG) had good marks from ConsumerReports, so the quality of the device is there, but it doesn’t support two of the attributes (S-Video or Analog Pass-thru) and all I can do is hope that the Insignia will be supported later on. (There is some hope.)

Note: I got the NS-DXA1, not the newer NS-DXA1-APT which does support Analog Pass-thru. Grrrr…

If the Insignia has us covered for the Tivo, then the next option I’d like to look for is the S-Video connection. I have been leaning towards the Channel Master CM7000, which has the S-Video connection and I can probably pick up at Fry’s or at Wegner A/V. But there have been a couple of poor reviews that have me hesitating. However, I haven’t found any local retailer with the Apex DT1001 or the DT250, so I may be out of luck on the S-Video front. Add to this the lesser possibility of support from Tivo and I think I’ll skip this.

If S-Video is out of the picture then Analog Pass-thru is the last remaining issue. The Digital Stream boxes (available from RadioShack) have it, as do the Philco boxes. One of the Philco models also support a Smart Antenna which I’m unfamiliar with, but sounds intriguing. The Philco boxes are available in the Portland area at Standard TV and Appliance and at George Smith Warehouse Sales.

Other considerations in no particular order (2 points each):

  • Off-state power consumption (Thinking green)
  • Auto-shut off (More green thinking)
  • Shape of the remote (UX issues, pet peeves)
  • Quality of menus/setup (I’m a UI/UX snob when I can afford to be)
  • Aesthetics of the form factor (Prefer black to match other components)

Of all my review points, the Insignia box rates… (1-100)

  • Tivo (Series 2) compatibility: Unknown, but possible. (25 of 50 points)
  • S-Video connection: No (0 of 20)
  • Analog Pass-thru: No, older model (0 of 20)
  • Off-state power consumption: 0.01 amps; 0.06 amps while on. (2 of 2)
  • Auto-shut off: 1, 2, 3, 4 hours (2 of 2)
  • Shape of the remote: Number pad at bottom (yay!) Decent variety of button shapes (1 of 2)
  • Quality of menus/setup: Nice graphics, wrap-around menus, nice arrow movement (2 of 2)
  • Aesthetics of the form factor: Black. Logo can be covered, LED is a bit big. (1 of 2)

Total for the Insignia NS-DXA1: 33 of a possible 100 points. (The NS-DXA1-APT would score a 53.)

I’m going to check out a couple more stores: a Rite-aid downtown and Fry’s. At this point I’m leaning towards the Philco box, but I’m not 100% sold on it. 1) Hopefully it will get Tivo support; 2) no S-video; 3) will have analog pass-thru. That rates a 55 to the Insignia’s 25 on my 3 primary attributes, but the Insignia kicks some strong butt in the bonus round (8 of 10 points). The Channel Master would also start off on that 55 point mark, giving them both a real head start over the Insignia.

[EDIT: November 2009: As we’ve gotten full support of the Comcast DTA for basic digital cable and a bigger Motorola set-top box for extended channels, we haven’t actually needed to use an Over-The-Air converter box. However, TiVo does support some, including the two that we got: http://support.tivo.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/310, the Insignia and the Channel Master.]


i've been contemplating referrer logs but…

Posted in Media at 1 pm

When the search phrase “i’ve been contemplating suicide but it really doesn’t suit my style so i think i’ll just act bored instead” places your site at number 3 on the Google results, you really need to re-examine your online activities.


WebVisions rides again

Posted in Design, Media, People, Tech, Web at 12 pm

While everyone else is getting ready for SXSW, the WebVisions board has been busy getting this year’s edition ready to go. I’m really excited that Jeffery Veen is back. His presentation (5 or so years ago) was one of the best ever and even though we usually don’t have return speakers, Veen is one of the few that I’m truly glad to hear again.

WebVisions: May 22 – 23, 2008 – Portland, Oregon

Media, technology and consumer trends visionary Lynne Johnson will join WebVisions to deliver the Thursday keynote address. Lynne is the Senior Editor and Community Director for FastCompany.com, a leading website and community for people passionate about business ideas that also offers the complete content of Fast Company magazine. She also writes a technology blog following web, media, and consumer trends for FastCompany.com, and guest blogs for techPresident and Black Web 2.0.

An internationally sought-after sage, author, and user experience consultant, Jeffrey Veen will return to WebVisions to deliver one of the event’s keynote addresses. Currently a Design Manager and project lead for Google’s Measure Map project, Jeffrey is returning to WebVisions to share his vision for the future of the Web.

At this point, WebVisions as an event runs really smoothly. We get a good set of volunteers returning each year, and my Tech Crews are always on top of things. I’m the stage manager and try to make sure that each speaker is prepared and comfortable, the audience is undistracted, and the volunteers understand that the audience members are expecting to have a great experience and we want to give them an outstanding experience.

WebVisions is incredibly cheap and for the quality of the speakers and the location, it cannot be beat. I hope you’re coming!


Corny SF Joke

Posted in Media, Tech at 8 pm

Q: What did the Dalek dermatologist say to it’s patient?

A: “Exfoliate!”

(I’m truly sorry… I thought that up this morning. I realize that there are only a small sliver in the venn diagram subset between the circle of “UK SciFi TV enthusiasts” and those “familiar with skin care techniques.”)